BREAD AND SOMETHING TO DUNK IT IN
WORDS BY GENESIA ALVES AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY SURUCHI MAIRA
“The religious and superstitious feeling attached to bread is stronger in some countries than others,” writes Claudia Roden. “An invocation to God is murmured before kneading the dough, another before placing it in the oven. A hungry man will kiss a piece of bread given to him as alms.” Roden speaks of Turkey, but the same could be said of much of the world, including India.
In all bread-obsessed communities – whether sunny Goa or a French hamlet at the foot of the Alps – every old bakery has its own version of the local stuff-of-life. Some will credit the water for giving their baguette its airy insides. Some will say Yvan inherited his family’s bakers’ hands and that is why their poi is like no other.
Mumbai loves its brun and the Portuguese inflected pao. Brun is double baked to form a brittle crusty dome that can withstand a dunk into a feisty cup of chai but retain its wherewithal and bite. Pao is fluffy, soft with a café au lait-coloured crust and an ability to sponge up anything it comes into contact with – keema curry, mutton shorba, tea.
In Bandra, when the Goan immigrants first came, they would stand at the baker’s and say in Konkani, “Maka pao.” – “Bread for me”. “Macapaos” soon turned into a slang reference for the community. As other immigrants moved in, it turned into a generic name for the entire Roman Catholic population of Bandra much to the indignant horror of the aboriginal East Indians. But that is another story.
But I imagine it smells exactly like it always has – of bread, slowly rising in the ovens, glazes turning golden, warm aromas, savoury and sweet.
Modern times are carb-o-phobic about bread, but if you grew up in Mumbai, you’ll remember when bread (in some form) and a cup of tea could be breakfast, elevenses, lunch, tea and perhaps even dinner. If you need basic sustenance and a place to sit down, I have three ideas.
American Express Bakery
The Goan Carvalhos of American Express Bakery have been “kneading your needs”, as the signage says, for four generations. The bakery, a pre-Independence era warehouse in Byculla, thrums today with modern machinery and the innovativeness that comes from the current generation’s food tech education. But I imagine it smells exactly like it always has – of bread, slowly rising in the ovens, glazes turning golden, warm aromas, savoury and sweet. While they have a beautiful old-world café in not-so-nice-anymore Byculla, their little store in Bandra has a new Nescafé machine and a bench with a view of Hill Road. Have a roast mutton sandwich, or a chicken puff or a bun. If you’re very lucky, the grand-dame Mrs. Lilia Carvalho will be behind the counter and may ask you how your day has been. You’ll feel better immediately.
American Express Bakery, Villa Sushma, Hill Road, Bandra (w), Mumbai 400 050. Phone: 022 2642 2857
Good Luck Restaurant
Good Luck Restaurant is run by an Iranian family, the third generation of which takes turns sitting at the cashier. Its blue-white tubelights and tiled walls speak of a no-frills-necessary time when food was food and ambience was for fops. Their forte is the all day workman’s breakfast: pao with keema (curried mutton mince), or a single-egg plain omelette. You could also have a shawarma or emu keema. But if you need a place to spend half an hour out of the sun, ask for a chai aur bun-maska, ek saath main. White bread pao, dotted inexplicably with lurid green and red fruit peel, slathered with butter will land in its steel thali on your table. You may have to remind him to bring the chai (that is usually had at the end of a meal). Sip, dunk, bite. You will walk out replenished.
Good Luck Restaurant, 106 Hill Road, Bandra (w), Mumbai 400 050. Phone: 022 2642 2250
A young, possibly foolhardy French trio started Café Suzette. A tiny whisper of Paris in a tiny restaurant space, it squeezes a kitchen and seating for 14 people indoors with air-conditioning with additional al fresco seating. Suzette’s buckwheat crepes are sublime, their salads exquisite, their seasonal fruit desserts to not-diet for. But it is their dark, rich, sexy hot chocolate that has regulars addicted. Ask for the baguette made with French flour served with butter, jam or Nutella, or a flaky croissant. Pause. Eavesdrop. Later there will be enough time to revenons à nos moutons.
Suzette, Shop No. 14, Gasper Enclave, St. John Street, Pali Naka, Bandra (w), Mumbai 400 050. Phone: 022 2641 1431
I like to think that immigrant stories are tied to their bread. When the locals come to regard poi or a fruit-peel festooned bun or a baguette as their own, you know the new roots are strong, safe and deep. And with this in mind, whether tourist or aboriginal, you cannot but whisper a quiet thank you for a place to sit and quietly eat a piece of bread.